This question can be asked in many different forms during an interview, but the bottom line is you should be prepared to answer it in one way or another. It is a terrible question, I agree. I had to ask it when I was interviewing candidates and it was not much fun on the other side of the table either!
So, how do you answer this question? Let us start by first stepping back. Before you have even sent out resumes or filled out applications you should be prepared for this. You should do an honest self-evaluation of yourself. List your talents, your strengths, what you bring to a company, what your accomplishments are to date and yes, your weaknesses. You will be asked about all of these things so you should be prepared.
To answer the weaknesses question, you want to focus on how your strengths counter those weaknesses and how you overcome them. For example, I hate filing. Always have, always will. Hate it with a passion. I do not know why, I do not care why I just know this about myself. But, I am a very organized person, a list person, a person who likes to be able to set daily goals and check them off the list. I also pride myself in making the most of my time.
I use my strengths by creating a specific location in my office to put all of my filing. Through out the day I put anything needing to be filed in that spot and that spot only. I also mark a specific time on my calendar to file – from 3:00 – 3:30. Now each day is not going to allow me to file exactly at 3:00, but it is a goal, it is on my calendar, it is a priority. If I have to schedule a meeting at 3:15, I move my filing to another time, I do not ignore it. At the end of the day I keep my priorities, accomplish my goals and overcome my weakness.
Realize this question is an opportunity to showcase strengths, a realization about yourself, how you overcome and master your challenges. We all have weaknesses, no one is the perfect employee (or boss!) so it is important to recognized what qualities you need to improve on and how you do not let these interfere with your work.
A word of caution – do your homework, know what the position entails. There is nothing worse than being interviewed and your weakness is one of the most important qualities of the job. Case in point, I interviewed a young lady years ago for the position of Broker’s Assistant for a high level financial advisor. She would be responsible for excel spreadsheets, calculating various items in the client’s accounts and the like. The job description indicated an aptitude in mathematics was required. When I asked about her weaknesses, she told me, “I’m not very good at math, but I’m a people person!”
She did not get the job.
Lisa K McDonald